Digital Sunscreen – What does your school do?

I haven’t posted anything for ages. I’ve been thinking about ‘the digital diet’ and what’s missing in that discourse. The DD is all about what kids are doing in the time they spend with screens (good and bad) and how to try and come up with a ‘healthy balance’. There have been numerous conferences and seminars about this … but I have always felt there was something missing – and here is it – Digital Sunscreen.

Digital Sunscreen is made from a strange brew of emotional intelligence, competency, agency and attention. It’s what your child (and mine) need to wear when they are engaging with technology and digital media – gaming, social media or other digitial activity. Let’s face it, even when they go outside, they take their phones and iPads, so need some DS.

Protects for up to 2 hours a day where you will have the potential for excellence and astounding focus.

My main line of discussion here is that teachers (more than systems) neither wear it nor advocate for it in their classrooms. Very few have talked to parents about it and are in fact part of the problem, reluctant to buy it – or even acknowledge the need for it. Remember – current research argues for no more than two hours a day for teens.


Buy some Digital Sunscreen today!

There is little evidence to challenge the argument many teens spend more than two hours a day with ‘screens’ and this isn’t good for them. Some studies have shown that children as young as eight exceed this on a regular basis while research also suggests that screen time can have lots of negative effects on kids, ranging from childhood obesity and irregular sleep patterns to social and/or behavioral issues.

It’s a brave new world

This was said also said of TV and before that the research raised concerns about the social decay induced by pop music. In short, media has long been paraded as a ‘monster under the bed’. Up until recently, video games were slammed for their influence on teenagers too for the same reasons, plus an additional dose of violence. The fact that most of these games were designed for adults and not children hasn’t stopped efforts to create media panic. Other research about things such as imagination and play have been routinely ignored in the anti-game debate, despite media researchers showing time and time again that young people have not (yet) been given a serious opportunity to learn about media (including games) in schools. Check your school – do they have media teachers yet?

We are now are in a situation where children’s media choices and pervasive access to media (which deliberately targets children as consumers and social beings) is well beyond regulation and under-estimated in education. I argue schools have no idea how much time their students spend on ‘screens’ per day – on their own campus or at home. Therefore, digital sunscreen is not a factor or feature of policy or strategy. Instead, they talk mostly about cybersafety and digital citizenship – which lack the critical elements needed to engage children in media education from an early age.

Protects against slogans and unproven claims. Re-apply every two hours.

The advancement of both the technology involved in children’s education and socialisation in not also without concern. It does not stand outside the research on screen time. However, sloganeering, building peer-belief networks and social capital through popular media channels such as Twitter is an ongoing attempt to circumvent long-standing issues about the role of teachers in the media, the ethics associated with allowing consumer brands to actively influence teacher education and student education about the media and technology. In case anyone has forgotten, the syllabus remains ‘brand’ agnostic when it comes to using ICTs and in Australia at least, has a rich history in developing and supporting Open Education Resources. There is a clear erosion of this in education, which is embedded in the slogans, sponsored ads, hired-experts and events which no longer feel the need to address the kind of scholarship and evidence upon which the “ICTs in the classroom” was constructed a decade ago.

Before Digital Sunscreen, I was just another Tweet waiting to happen.

We are routinely asked to believe that X technology is better than Y and that if we don’t have it, then we will fail students and harm their futures. We are bombarded with this in so called ‘personal learning networks’. This is exactly the kind of deficit message that works so well these days. And there is an abundance of these messages.

The blistering acceleration of focus scarcity, or attention deficit may soon make effective evidence-based approaches to using technology in the classroom impossible. Teachers bemoan teenagers for this – however, the resident edu-media crowd on Twitter is modelling the exact thing they don’t want, just as teachers sit in rows at edu-cons listening to experts tell them how bad things are, how powerpoint SUCKS and how disengaged kids are when teachers throw content at them. Sitting alone on your lounge listing to Twitter experts peddle their mission message is the same as sitting in rows doing it.

See your local stockist today!

Edu-media has created a vocal set of educators, for whom social media is a rewarding social drama as well as a way to build social capital in a global income stream. They endlessly post their life-story in images and words – amplifying the core belief that technology is both useful and liberating to young people. On the other hand, where these people hold power – organisational power and sway – this also resolves itself as type of media violence – as those who work for them, might have some influence on them being hired elsewhere must conform – and amplify the core belief of the master and maintaining their dominant views of the group to chase off outsiders and critics.

I have a few questions …

  • Are teachers exempt from justifying their demand for  children to use select technology – regardless of background, experience, culture and media experience?
  • If children are using media at home, how is using screens at school be somehow annexed from the total time?
  • What information do schools provide parents towards in-school exposure to screens, and how to they govern use in an accountable way?
  • Do schools think (and do something about) digital sunscreen?

Do I wear Digital Sunscreen? – you bet I do.

It seems bizarre to watch some ‘leaders’ parade their love of technology online on a daily basis. Here is me with a Minister, a thought leader, a sporting hero – and here are MY staff doing X, Y and Z with technology. Pensky always said that there would be great competition for authority – and I believe, between the virtual high-fives of in-group bias – that the ‘fear of missing out’ and not being ‘top dog’ is the central point of exploitation by brands. The end result is a bunch or ‘important’ people, living their lives through social media – putting kids in front of screens – well beyond the recommended dosage.

Students (who are also children) continually fight distractions. Headphones on as they work, televisions on during dinner, text messages, emails, phone calls, app notifications … we see it every day. The solution to this is not more technology, or buying Microsoft Minecraft Education (*slaps head) – but to accept that teachers are implicated in sloppy shortcuts, like triaging email by heading, skipping voice mails, skimming Twitter and Facebook. It’s not just that we’ve developed habits of attention that make us less effective, but that the weight of messages leaves us too little time simply to reflect on what they really mean. That seems at odds with edu-media’s central claim is that technology increases productivity, connectedness, skills and knowledge (despite the scarcity of focus problem).

Economist Herbert Simon first noted, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” and yet heavy user personalities continually seek attention (and authority) by providing information they believe to be useful to their imagined audience.

Can I wear Digital Sunscreen and have a healthy digital diet?

I’ve been using the term edumedia sarcastically. The proper term is mission-driven marketing –  a way to turn awareness into action with those new to your product or to engage already-supportive people in deeper ways. It uses teachers, enlists paid and unpaid teachers and ex-teachers – to present itself as ‘the future’ in a duplicity of discussions and forms.

When did I start wearing Digital Sunscreen?

So do I hate technology a decade on from beginning to blog about it? No. Do I feel grubby about being in the vanguard of using “the read/write web”? No I don’t.  I was there at the time – and thought that this would change the way we approach learning (anything). I have since grown to appreciate this has not without creating new issues and amplifying the existing ones – such as screen time. In the last few years, I’ve become more aware and concerned about the impact of mission driven marketing’s effect on the time children are told to spend with technology directly (teachers) and indirecty (screen-media).

It leads me to think about the impact of school-based screen time on children’s emotional intelligence – and their ability to focus. No child can succeed in the modernist schools system’s we have – a mechanism designed filter society into workers and elites  – without this focus, and they can’t focus without activating their emotional intelligence – to manage media – be that campfire, waterhole, cave or life learning envioronments.

They can’t learn to do this that without better media education (digital sunscreen and digital diet) – the kind of message that will fly in the face of popular Twitter-sloganeering.

Attempting to increase excellence (in the current system) requires focus and to be conscious of the seduction taking place through screens. How we manage ourselves is not limited to ‘digital footprints’, but how it shapes our emotional intelligence and ability to move through stages of competency with screens in our lives.

So my last reader on earth … digital sunscreen – works for up to two hours. Get some today.


The Screen Time Pandemic

I gave an interview this week about children and videogames and in it I sensationally described ‘screen-time’ as the first digital pandemic which constitutes nothing less than an expanding public health problem. In someways I was reacting to a repeating concern questioners have about games and childhood. The media, as I’ve said many many times (as have many many other) perpetuate public anxiety among parents about the ‘potential’ harm videogames cause which is broadly based on scientific claims.

Let me take a swipe at science for a moment. I mean they are totally asking for it right? Imagine for a second that a clash of theories and ideas exists between artisans and scientists. Not too hard to imagine is it? and if you’re still not convinced … why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the other… eh? Hang on… You get my point, science is not to be trusted absolutely and of course can claim vast amounts of ‘crazy’ themselves. One of the most alarming was (and still is) giving children electro-shock ‘therapy’ because the daydream too much. Thanks science, but just because you invent a therapy clearly does not mean you also found an actual problem and as an artisan I’m of such free will as to find some of the methods being used to demonize games (and build an even bigger therapy industry) suspect.

But there is a digital pandemic. We see it everyday and it demonstrates how little interest and emphasis there is on public policy and education on dealing with it. While it might not be as physically destructive as passing round Benson & Hedges to adolescents, screen time is treated very much like gambling. We know it is a serious social problem for families and individuals, but it’s not as important as other things like buying fancy new fighter-jets.

The big social difference is that ‘screen-time’ is notionally free and doesn’t require betting in terms of wining and losing money. However, like gambling technology doesn’t favour the punter but the owner of the networks, devices and software that ‘screen timers’ use, just like card tables and race-tracks. The amount of time people spend using ‘screen time’ is much more important than focusing on individual applications of that screen time. In a way, we are more worried about smoking effects in the home than we might be in public spaces like trains, schools or cinemas. The concern about ‘screen time’ is almost the inverse of common public heath issues such as smoking or gambling.

As I said today, there has been a call for a more robust and cohesive approach to media education, which is going to be no less of a long hard slog than convincing people that gambling or driving when tired has experienced. And let us not be coy about the deadly effects of screen-time. We are seeing plenty of social issues related to individual use of media (trolling, prank calls, bullying) as well as people using their phone while driving with fatal results. We are beginning to see some efforts to raise awareness of screen time, but like smoking was in the 1950s the companies profiting cannot be allowed to self-regulate the solution, or co-opt selected areas of medical science to rebuke public concerns.

It makes for interesting conversation, perhaps even a topic for a PBL class:

Should we be concerned about the screen time and public heath: and what should be done about it.

This is the essentially the popular media-proposition that was leveled at film, television, video recordings, the Internet and videogames … except now the device in your pocket can do all of this. I can be a weapon of mass: consumption; consumerism; communication; destruction; deviation; deprivation and much more … I am sure you could create an A-Z of the potential issues to public heath and civic society that ‘screen time’ presents — and there are now very very few devices which exclusively play videogames.